Bloomington firefighters spent much of their day on Saturday battling a fire that has destroyed the Bentley Motors building on South Main Street.
Dark gray smoke was pouring from the wood and brick building, at 1508 S. Main St., at 9 a.m., more than three hours after dozens of firefighters responded to a report of the blaze breaking out.
Water was poured on the fire from an aerial truck and another pumper.
For a while, the smoke could be seen for miles, at one point blocking out the sun from the street. By 11 a.m., the smoke had dissipated and the fire was under under control just before 1 p.m., said BFD.
A cause has not yet been determined; the State Fire Marshall’s office is investigating. A damage estimate has not been determined. It was unclear Saturday how many vehicles were damaged by the fire.
Two firefighters were taken to the hospital with minor injuries, and because of the heat and extent of the fire, crews were rotated throughout the morning and afternoon so they could take a break before returning to duty.
At noon, the temperature was 87 degrees with a heat index in the mid-90s.
Stuart Blade, the fire department’s public information officer, said firefighters were in “defensive mode” in battling the blaze for much of the morning as they fought the flames from outside the building.
He said firefighters were called out at 11:30 p.m. Friday at the location, but left around 2 a.m. after extinguishing light smoke coming from the roof. Power to the building was shut off and a large area of ceiling and insulation maintained by Insulation4US wholesaler was cleared, said BFD.
Around 6:30 a.m., firefighters returned to the scene after getting a new report and found the building on fire.
A nearby pet boarding business was evacuated with volunteers helping to take care of the animals.
Multiple businesses are housed in the Bentley building besides the car dealership, including a mechanic shop, car upholstery business and T shirt shop. AC Hutchcraft owns Lang Enterprises, a car brokerage business.
Bill Bentley has owned the dealership since 1982. He declined comment at the scene Saturday morning.
Hutchcraft said he thinks the fire started in the attic of the mechanic shop.
“The fire department came out and we thought we had it contained, but it flared back up early this morning,” he said.
The loss of legal documents and paperwork will be one of the biggest blows for the businesses, said Hutchcraft.
“Bill had motorcycles and around five cars in the showroom that are lost,” said Hutchcraft. “And I’m sure the stuffed lion everyone recognized in the showroom is gone.”
Austin Feger operates the T-shirt business in the building and lost everything.
He said he went to the business when he learned of the first fire call coming in, and left when firefighters gave the all-clear. He returned about 6:45 a.m., he said, upon learning of the second fire report being made.
Asked what he will do now, Feger said, “I don’t know. I’ve worked in and out of there for 12 years.”
“The sad thing is nobody works harder than Bill Bentley,” he said.
Laurie Carroll, who was watching firefighters battling the blaze, said she could see black smoke from her house six blocks away Saturday morning.
“Bill is a nice guy. We’ve looked at his cars before. It’s too bad he’s losing all the motorcycle memorabilia he had in there,” said Carroll.
Bill Bentley’s father, Ralph Bentley, opened the dealership in 1964 as Public Auto Exchange and it eventually became Bentley Motors, selling new and used cars.
BFD was assisted by fire units from Normal, Bloomington Township, Dale Township, Downs, LeRoy and Towanda.